Katalena is a 20-month-old little girl with down syndrome who is very familiar with the hospital setting. At just two weeks of age, Lena and her family spent five weeks in the Pediatric ICU after her mother found her unresponsive. The doctors determined Lena had a preleukemic condition that is unique to infants with down syndrome, and she received chemotherapy to treat it. After beating it, Lena was discharged from the hospital at 7 weeks old. Many follow-up appointments and labs later, Lena’s family got the devastating call in August that she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and that they will be admitted for treatment. The next 6 months of Lena’s life will be spent in the hospital where she will receive many rounds of aggressive chemotherapy to beat this cancer once again.
You would never know Lena has gone through so much in her life. She is always smiling and bringing joy to everyone around her. Lena lights up every room with her contagious smile and is always learning new words and dancing to her favorite songs. Lena loves dogs, Minnie Mouse, and watching bluey or Back to the Outback. Her favorite things to play with are light-up toys and musical toys. Lena’s family likes to shop at T.J. Maxx and Walmart and for dinner they love the chance to eat at Outback Steakhouse or Olive Garden. When asking Lena’s nana what they are hoping for this holiday season she states “that Lena gets better and the cancer stays gone.”
Lena loves playing with her 4-year-old brother, Tobias, who she calls “bubba”, and her grandpa visits Lena as often as he can and always comes with gifts for his favorite granddaughter. Her mother and grandma spend the majority of time with her during her long hospital stays where they watch Bluey, get lots of snuggles in, and of course, play.
Lena’s family is very grateful for the amazing nurses, doctors, and child life team they have to make this time easier. The compassion and diligence from the medical staff have made Lena’s care here more comfortable. As a child life specialist, I have been able to spend time with Lena in her play-pen enjoying music, playing with rubber duckies, and exploring all sorts of fun toys. She is one of the strongest 20-month-old I know.
I am so incredibly honored to be writing this letter on behalf of Lena and her family. Thank you Mark for sharing these stories and the River listeners for supporting our families. I know they will rally behind them and help to provide them with a joyful Christmas season.
Amanda Ablan, Certified Child Life Specialist
Memorial Health Dwaine & Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital of Savannah